A Company Culture We Can Trust with Sara Jones
Play • 47 min

Sara Jones, CEO of InclusionPro joins Carolyn and Mark to talk about all things diversity, equity, and inclusion. Sara explains gaps in authenticity and perception and gives tech leaders everywhere new goals to strive for when it comes to company culture.

Episode Table of Contents

  • [00:54] Why We Always Go Back to Company Culture
  • [10:38] How Leaders Respond to Employees’ Desire
  • [23:03] What Attracts People of Color to Apply
  • [30:54] Why Leaders Avoid the Important Things About Company Culture
  • [41:37] What Technology Can Never Replace

Episode Links and Resources

Why We Always Go Back to Company Culture

Carolyn: Today I am really happy to have Sara Jones with us. Sara's a friend and we've spoken before. Almost all of our guests, even though we're talking about tech, they always go back to culture. We're going to talk about that with Sara today.

Sara Jones is the CEO of InclusionPro. She has over 20 years of experience in technology, business development, law, and leadership. You were a practicing attorney, right Sara?

Sara: For 10 years. I'm still recovering.

Carolyn: So as the CEO of InclusionPro, her mission is to guide leaders in building inclusive company culture that promotes team performance and team innovation. She's written a book recently called Inclusive Leadership and the Authenticity Gap, that we get to talk about today.

Sara: Thank you. And this is a fun opportunity for me to merge my love of technology with diversity, equity, and inclusion. As most folks know, it is pretty hard to do. I've had a couple of decades talking about this, so hopefully, we can share some really great learnings. Most importantly, I think for the folks listening that might be thinking "DEI again."

Carolyn: Which stands for?

Sara: Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. A lot of things have shifted. I think a lot of folks come to this type of conversation with the old thinking in mind. I'd just like to invite listeners to get rid of what you know. Just be open to hearing some new thoughts around diversity, equity, inclusions, and things that we're able to do now that we weren't able to do even five years ago. That's my little plug for saying, "Open-minded today?"


Carolyn: That leads really nicely into my first question about being a recovering attorney, your love for tech. What inspired you to create InclusionPro?

Sara: InclusionPro is the end of a long 20-year journey having diversity, equity, inclusion as part of my personal career journey. Now, it may not be part of everyone's and a significant part of that is because I did start in patent law. Having an engineering degree and a law degree, put me in an industry that had only 5% women and people of color. I get a lot of people that are like, "Oh, our industry has no women." I'm like, "Yes, I've been there."

I actually know what it's like. It's not like I came from academia or some area that was just flushed with a lot of diversity. I have lived this and I understand the impacts of it at a very personal level. But I also have been an executive. I know the challenges of being an executive, those operational aspects and how it really works in business.

There's some big misalignments that can happen that we need to talk about when we get to this idea of authenticity. What is the individual need versus the larger organizational needs? Those can be very complex, very hard. I think it's something unique that I've been able to understand over my time. That makes me uniquely positioned to be able to help executives in this journey where most of them haven't been in this conversation.

I think white men are more recently joining the conversation, which is very exciting. But you got a lot of employees saying, "What about social justice? What about this? I'm not seeing this statement. Where's this ERG, where's this, you're not committed."

How Company Culture Makes It Challenging to Be a Leader

Sara: It can be really challenging to be a leader. Being able to frankly, make a full-time living, doing diversity, equity, inclusion, it's not something I could have ever imagined would've happened 20 years ago. Happily, here we are and people are willing to invest the time and energy into doing this. I'm just thrilled that I can do this full-time and bring all that knowledge into the companies.

Mark: I'd really like to understand what you think that means and what we're doing. I was a little confused at first by the use of authentic or authenticity here.

Carolyn: I'm really interested to know what it means for the employee, for us, for me and why it matters to the bottom line for the company. I think a lot of times, that's what creates change. If it helps the bottom line, then we'll do it. I don't know if there's a tie in there.

Sara: What's interesting is that's actually the number one thing that executives want. When I work with an executive team, we actually go through an exercise that asks them, "What is the thing that you most desire out of all of these strategic outcomes?" So think about that. That's not actually a bottom-line conversation.

I, as an executive and a leader, would really like to be able to do this. It’s not because it's what we've always been saying is the right thing to do. We all know that. Let's just move forward past that because people aren't doing it. At the core, what I find is when you get leaders in a space where they can be self reflective, they actually just want to be themselves.

An Angel Double Position

Sara: It's so bizarre, but they want to be humanized too. They want to be able to try, and if they may make a mistake, executives get this kind of spotlight on them. We can debate the word unfair, but they have a spotlight on them. Even if they make a small mistake, people are going to notice and be like, "Those people, they don't get it. How can they be so disconnected?" Et cetera, et cetera. Imagine what that starts to do as leaders are trying to learn.

Let's say you're a white man. You've recently started learning about diversity, equity, inclusion, and you have folks that are expecting you to be perfect at it. That's a lot of pressure for leaders. By the way, I'm not perfect either. So we've created this interesting dynamic, not necessarily recently, but I think for leaders having to be on guard and in this angel double position.

Mark: Maybe more so for publicly traded companies.

Sara: Yes, public, but even private companies. This is any culture where leaders have this pressure.

Carolyn: Even government, I'm thinking about our defense leadership. I feel like they almost can't afford to be authentic.

Sara: That's exactly right. Now you're thinking about the give and take of what I am allowed to say. Do I have the freedom to say? How do you shift that? What happens is when you really curate the words that you say, you actually stop communicating. You stop having conversations with people and say, "If that's the reaction I'm going to get, I'm just not even going to try."

How Human Connection Stops in the Company Culture

Sara: So the learning stops, the engagement stops, the human connection stops in the company culture. That's been the whole problem to begin with. If we would just get together in a room, sit down and be able to have conversations, actually knowing and expecting people to make mistakes. Then how do we help people through that and help each other learn?

By the way, it's not just white men that are going to make mistakes. It's going to be people of color to make assumptions, it's going to be, LGBTQIA identifying people. We're all going to make mistakes because we're all human. We've created this interesting boundary around what's permissible and what's not permissible. It's really slowed down our ability to change culture within leaders or companies.

Now, what I'm not saying is say whatever you want, that's not what I'm saying. What I'm saying is that authenticity, the goal to reach that is really a journey. It's really like "We're going to help each other. We're going to learn side by side, because I, as the executive, don't know everything. You, as the new employee don't know everything either and it's okay, we're going to help each other out."

Now it's more of a partnered experience rather than what would be considered a top down. The leaders need to model or grassroots because neither works by itself alone. That's an example of the shift that enables more people within an organization to really be more authentic and reduce the misalignments that can help.

Carolyn: Is the authenticity gap more in the leadership or in the employees or everybody?

How Leaders Respond to Employees’ Desire

Sara: I would say it's how leaders respond to employees' desire for more inclusion. There's actually many options available to leaders. If they are not in touch with the way to get that true connection with their employees, they're more likely to create an authenticity gap. They're more likely to have people say, "They're doing it to check the box. They don't really mean it. They're doing it for marketing reasons, but they don't actually believe it." It's that sort of sentiment that you're trying to reduce. There's methods that produce that and there's also methods that create more authenticity.

Carolyn: I absolutely see how being authentic is good for your soul. Is it good for your company?

Sara: Yes. We're in the great resignation period. We have had some pretty rough business experiences. I think executives are just scrambling right now to figure things out. Some are saying, "I can't afford right now to do diversity, equity, inclusion." In my mind, if you're thinking of diversity, equity, inclusion, as something on top of your day job, you're probably thinking about it wrong in the first place.

It's really how we show up, how we make decisions, how we grow the business. It is not about just keeping employees happy. If you're just trying to satiate employees and that's very patronizing and it is felt, they know. They're not dumb. They know when leaders are just doing it to make it seem like they're doing it, but they're not really committed. The teams I work on usually have very genuine interests. I'm actually not working with folks that are just talking the talk. If they're talking the talk, I guarantee they will not hire me.

How to Make an Impact

Sara: That's just a fundamentally easy thing for me as a DEI consultant, to know who's genuinely committed, who wants to do the work, and who's not interested in doing it. My day-to-day is really more focused on those organizations and what they can do to make an impact.

I'm actually seeing the work going on inside of the organization. Some of that's a little bit more invisible to folks on the outside. That's the leadership challenge right there, it’s that communication piece and things like that. I don't necessarily go and approach, and says, "I look at the executive team or boardroom and I'm diversifying now”. You're going to get a lot of backlash."

That's absolutely not my approach. From an executive leadership standpoint, we know how hard it is to keep the ship running. Having a lot of changeover at the top is just not smart. So what is the learning, the growth and cap, and capacity we start to build on the leadership team so they can start to make decisions in a more deep, inclusive way? That's when you're going to start to see the real authenticity happen.

Sometimes it takes a year or two for change to happen. So if we're looking for immediate change, again it is reactive. What I'm trying to do is get folks to move from reactive to intentional. Again, we went from decades of "Let's invite a woman to speak and talk about her gender". How much did that make us mad? We're like, "Oh my gosh, I have a brain. Please let me showcase my talents, not talk about what it's like to be a woman".

A Company Culture Where a Person of Color Can Thrive

Sara: We want the same thing as men. It's not really that different, the things that I want for my career versus what a man wants in his career. So whether that's a person of color or anyone, we've got to get people better at seeing genius in a wider range of forms. That's the learning that leaders have to do. It’s to be able to say, you know, cybersecurity experts, don't just look one way. They don't talk one way or solve a problem one way, they actually solve it in a lot of different ways.

If they don't have that exposure, if they've not worked with a group of diverse thinkers, they're very unlikely. They're much more likely to hire, like if they really want to diversify, somebody based on an optic characteristic rather than an internal skills. It is ultimately the right way to hire whichever anyone wants.

Mark: How do we get more women and minorities involved in STEM early? By the way, getting people involved in STEM early doesn't mean that in a year you're now seeing results. You're probably seeing results a decade later. Something that I'm struggling with, as our company at Dynatrace grow, we are looking for diverse candidates that we would like to hire. I'm looking at the candidate pool and I see a disproportionate amount of white males in the candidate pool in technology.

I don't know how I can change that. It's significant. I've worked at companies in the past who are heavily involved in STEM and things like that, but I don't feel we're seeing the results of those efforts in the marketplace now. Maybe we will, and I'll be out of the marketplace by then.

The Truth About Company Culture and the Talent Pipeline

Sara: It'll be a decade from now, but how do I handle and deal with these kinds of things that I have to deal with today?

Carolyn: What Mark sees anecdotally, I'm guessing that's pretty universal. On the flip side in the marketing world, even though I'm in tech, when I go to hire, most of my peers are women, which I find very interesting. I would say 80, maybe 90% are women.

Sara: Here's a couple of thoughts and I guess I'll just get real honest. It's interesting because I've been doing this work for 20 years.

The observation of the talent pipeline is very common and it is actually not true. What typically that comment comes from is a lack of self reflection on the company culture. Just because you are not getting candidates means candidates don't want to apply to you. That's just the end.

People are like, "What, why wouldn't they? We're awesome." If you're awesome at hiring white men, good for you, A+. But that's where the perception gap comes in. You actually fail at hiring women, you get an F. This is where the leaders have to sit down and start to get really honest with themselves because my network is full of women in tech, full of it.

So anecdotally, I could sit here and say, "I actually know hundreds and thousands of women in technology. You don't know any? So, who's right and who's wrong?" We both have our life experiences. It's just that I've made the intentional work and decision to include in my personal network, a lot more women in tech. They are there. You just haven't done the work to build your network. So that's the moment of honesty.

Authenticity Gap

Sara: Now this is where the authenticity gap comes from. I can say that as an outside consultant. Unless you listen and hear that, and accept the ownership and responsibility instead of deflect and say, "Well it's because the talent pipeline isn't full, instead of, "Wow, we are not getting women applying to our company. We are doing something wrong. We're actually really great at targeting white men."

I've had people say, "I don't want to change things because I just don't believe in targeting women and people of color." I'm like, "You're already targeting white men." That is an interesting statement if all you're hiring is white men because the talent is there. It's just, are you willing to do the work to find it and really bring it into your network in a meaningful way?

What happens if you watch the research, people will make a decision before they ever hit the submit application button. Just because you are not getting applicants is not a reflection at all of the true talent pool. Leaders somehow have decided that, "Oh, well, there's nothing I can do because there's just no talent out there.

Mark: I see your point. It's probably up to me to be more active in that process. As I was thinking through your explanation on this, we have an internal resource, a talent recruiting team. They're the ones who get the candidates and bring them to us.

Sara: The talent decides to go where they can thrive. If you think about that, why are they choosing not to come to your company? There's something about how you're describing or the interactions where they can't get that sense of thriving.

Strategic Risk Management

Sara: It is actually a strategic risk management skill if you think about it. So I have a law degree and an engineering degree. I'm not s**. What we're doing is, we're looking at these cues that companies are giving off.

We're making a risk management assessment of "Is that where I want to spend my time and energy? Is that where I think they're set up to actually help me thrive? Do I really feel like it's going to be an emotionally exhausting place to work?" Because "No, thank you. I'm not even going to hit apply."

BYU did some interesting research where they had job postings and they had one job posting that said, "Was very neutral." They had one job posting that said, "We really encourage people from all backgrounds, diversity, please apply." Then they had another posting that talked about their inclusive culture. Now I'm not saying this exactly right. You know, but Mark, which one do you think got the most submit application clicks? They might not have gotten hired, but they got the most submitted application clicks.

Carolyn: What are our choices again?

Sara: Neutral. We want all these types of diversity, please. If you meet these diverse identity, care characteristics, please apply. Or the third one is, we have a mission and inclusion. It’s a really important part of our culture and more of that type of statement.

Mark: I would assume the latter.

Carolyn: Me too. The third one?

Sara: You are right. It got more applicants. This is actually a Goldman...

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